Murphy administration hints at mandatory student vaccinations as outbreaks increase statewide despite masking

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TRENTON, NJ – It was intended to keep schools, teachers and students safe, but it’s not working as Governor Phil Murphy today reported 23 COVID-19 outbreaks in school districts since the first day of school two weeks ago.

Murphy, in his daily COVID-19 press briefing, reported there have been 22 cases of COVID-19 that have been tracked back to the in-school transmission.

82 Students have tested positive for COVID-19 and 20 teachers have tested positive. Murphy said the outbreaks have affected 22 different school districts.

“Currently there are a total of 23 outbreaks that have been identified,” Phil Murphy said. “We are continuing to work with our school partners to ensure safe learning.”

As of now, the mandated K-12 staff testing for unvaccinated teachers and workers will soon get underway. Under Murphy’s executive order vaccination is not required, but all employees who refuse to be vaccinated must undergo weekly or twice-weekly testing. Currently, there are no safeguards in place to prevent unvaccinated teachers and workers from bringing COVID-19 into the school districts.

There is also no option for school districts of opt-in remote learning this year, an option the governor ‘took off the field’ at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

Acting Department of Education Director Angelica Allen-McMillian reminded New Jerseyans that anyone who enters a public school is required to wear a face mask, regardless of vaccination status.

By October, the state will require school districts to create policies that will require unvaccinated workers to submit COVID-19 tests once or twice per week.

Now, the state is saying school districts must provide remote instruction for students who become quarantined due to COVID-19 outbreaks. McMillan also directed schools affected by Tropical Storm Ida to shift instruction to online learning.

As of today, 7 schools across the state have switched to virtual instruction due to COVID-19.

“The 2021-22 school year is off to a strong start,” McMillan said.

“This is not going to be a straight line,” Murphy added. “We never promised that it will be, but considering the broader picture, up and down the state, we’re off to a strong start.”

New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said vaccination is not high enough in the 12-17 year age range, saying just 59% of that population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

“We’d like to see that number higher because they come in contact with children too young to be vaccinated,” she said.

Persichilli continued, hinting that a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for students could be on the horizon.

“Vaccination is a vital tool that has been used to keep our schools safe for many years,” Persichilli said. “Right now for children to attend elementary school, they need to be vaccinated for chickenpox, polio, hepatitis b, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough…and tetanus.”

Persichilli said vaccination, masking and frequent hand washing are the keys to safe schools. She also said 758 school districts have signed up for the state’s COVID-19 screening program. That plan, she said involves COVID-19 testing for faculty and unvaccinated students in K-12.

As for the outbreaks, Persichilli noted that nearly half of COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in Mercer and Atlantic Counties, where six schools have experienced outbreaks.